Contact: Paul Vaillancourt
Tel: (514) 288-8290
|Date: February 9, 2003|
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Hagfors, Sweden and Maniwaki, Que., Canada - Pat Richard's weekend debut in the FIA's World Rally Championship – the first Canadian driver to compete at that level – produced a respectable ninth-place finish in the Group N Production Car division at the Rally of Sweden and brought accolades from his co-driver, Mikael Johansson. "I was impressed by his determination," said Johansson, a native of Sweden, following completion of the rally on Sunday. "Many other drivers would have pulled out of this event. When he has some time to reflect on it, he'll understand that it is quite an accomplishment to just finish your first Swedish rally."
Richard, the Sherbrooke, Quebec-born and Vancouver-based driver for Subaru Rally Team Canada, finished in 42nd position overall at the WRC's second event of the season, but first for the Production class. Finland's Marcus Gronholm, in a Peugeot, won the snow rally, that covered almost 1,900 kilometres and 17 special stages, while Sweden's Kenneth Back won the Group N division in a Mitsubishi.
Richard had to cope with plenty of adversity, prior to and during the race. He and his regular co-driver, Martin Headland, were involved in a collision with a non-rally vehicle during their first practice run early in the week. Headland suffered bruises that sidelined him in favour of Johansson, while Richard soldiered on despite considerable pain, especially in his wrists.
This year's Swedish Rally was also tougher for the competitors because of more snow than recent years, causing the driving line to change markedly, which had an impact on the pace notes.
"It's an awesome event and driving on studs is wonderful," remarked Richard, the defending Canadian rally champion. "But it's also a specialist's event. I don't know if I would suggest this one as a first WRC event for someone. I'm a bit disappointed that my true potential did not emerge. Still, if we hadn't been caught behind the two cars in stage 3, we would have been in the points."
Richard was impressed by the performance of the Impreza WRX STi Road Rocket and the work of his crew. The only problem on the final day of the race was a balky transmission that the crew replaced in a mere 18 minutes.
Meanwhile, on the Canadian Rally Championship front, Sylvain Erickson, driving his Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IV over a course that wended through areas where he was born and raised, won the Rallye Perce-Neige Maniwaki on Saturday, the first event of the nine-race Subaru Canadian Rally Championship season.
Erickson, a Maniwaki native who now resides in Gatineau and his co-driver, brother Philip, took the lead in the fifth stage of the rally, which covered a distance of some 225 kilometres of special stages, and were never threatened as they went on to cross the finish line in a time of two hours, 35.59 minutes. It was the Ericksons' second victory in three years at Perce-Neige Maniwaki, Canada's oldest winter car rally. The brother duo won in 2001 and ceded that honour to Pat Richard last season, the driver to whom they were the runner-up in the overall championship standings.
The Erickson brothers, who ran intermediate snow-ice tires for the entire rally, finished with a lead of almost six minutes over Antoine L'Estage of Acadie, Que., and co-driver Yanick Napert of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., driving a Hyundai Elantra. Third place went to veteran Quebec rally driver Jean-Paul Perusse and co-driver Paul Raymond in a time of 2:43.55. It was Perusse's first open-class competition aboard an all-wheel-drive vehicle – a Subaru Impreza WRX.
Several of the pre-race favourites who figured to pressure the Ericksons ran into difficulties, including five-time Canadian champion Tom McGeer of Georgetown, Ont. McGeer, a two-time North American Rally Cup champion, struggled early in the race and saw his hopes for a late surge snuffed out when his Subaru Impreza WRX took the ditch three stages from the finish, costing him 35 minutes. Toronto's Peter Thomson had second place virtually assured when he, too, crashed into the snowbanks on the penultimate stage.
Quebec drivers were resoundingly successful in the season-opening rally, filling all of the top-10 spots.
North American racing history was made at the start of the race as the Toyota Prius 2003, driven by Maciej Ogrocki and David Shindle, became the first hybrid car – gas and electric engine – to compete in a championship event. The Prius came in 22nd, but it managed to finish the race. Twelve of the 49 starters did not finish.
The next event in the Canadian championship is the Rallye International de Québec, in Quebec City, Feb. 26-March 2, a rally in which Pat Richard will be competing.
High resolution photos from Rallye Perce-Neige-Maniwaki are available at www.torchiacom.com/rally